The inclusion of the Women’s Liberation Front in a University of Wisconsin Law School-sponsored job recruiting event recently sparked controversy among trans rights activists on campus.

“By refusing [to enforce the Law School’s nondiscrimination policy and remove WoLF from University events], the University sets a chilling precedent that will harm all marginalized students by demonstrating the School does not support them,” student organization QLaw said in a recent statement.

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QLaw first spoke out against WoLF’s inclusion in the Law School’s Wisconsin Public Interest Interview Program last month, claiming the Law School broke its own nondiscrimination policy by platforming a group which “advocates for transphobic policies and engages in harmful acts of transphobia.” 

The Law School responded, claiming WoLF agreed to the nondiscrimination policy. When members of QLaw probed the School about its inspection of WoLF for violations, Law School Dean Daniel Tokaji said an inquiry conducted revealed no evidence of discrimination based on sex or gender identity in WoLF’s hiring practices. 

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WoLF claims it “fights at the front line of feminism,” though the organization’s definition of feminism does not include advocating for trans women, and says trans people “[rely] on the unproven premise of gender identity.” 

WoLF has fought against trans rights in the past. In 2016, WoLF received a $15,000 grant to fund a legal fight against an Obama-era policy that allowed students to use bathrooms based on gender identity. In 2017, WoLF allied with Family Policy Alliance — the public policy wing of anti-LGBTQ group Focus on the Family — to argue against the case of trans student Gavin Grimm, who sought to use school bathrooms that corresponded to his gender identity.

In 2019, WoLF members spoke against transgender rights at the panel of the anti-LGBTQ Heritage Foundation. Currently, WoLF is helping shape legislation in states like South Dakota to advance medical intervention bans for transgender youth.

Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, History and LGBTQ Studies Finn Enke said WoLF is a prime example of a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist group. Enke said the term describes a minority of feminists who believe transgender people are harming non-transgender women and girls. 

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WoLF’s mission statement describes a desire to “abolish regressive gender roles and the epidemic of male violence using legal arguments, policy advocacy, and public education.”

Enke said TERF groups like WoLF distinguish themselves by allying with anti-feminist political groups who seek to deny transgender existence.

“While other feminist groups and individuals might not understand transgender existence or have varying opinions about us, most feminists recognize that policing or vilifying any group based on their gender identity is anti-feminist and ultimately perpetuates sexism and misogyny,” Enke said. “Creating rigid definitions and standards of ‘girlhood’ and ‘womanhood’ leads to increasing barriers to all girls’ and women’s community and public participation.”

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The UW Law School said positions taken in court are elements of ideology and expression, and under the First Amendment, do not merit exclusion from a public platform. According to the Law School, the history of WoLF reflects beliefs, not real acts of discrimination.

Enke said they believe there should be a fine line as to what ought to be considered discrimination.

“It is not credible that a group such as WoLF does not discriminate against us,” Enke said. “So the first concern, actually, is not with WoLF, but that there is an authoritative body on campus willing to say this kind of discrimination is not a problem to the mission of the job fair or to the university’s own nondiscrimination policies.”

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Professor of political science and legal studies Howard Schweber said it is critical to note UW is a public institution, and in opening up its space to allow private speakers, employers are able to express themselves whether their views align with UW’s beliefs or not.

Schweber said cases in which an employer engages in criminal activities, for example, could be a basis for exclusion from the fair. Viewpoint, however, is not.

“These employers are not speaking for the university. They’re just being allowed in to speak for themselves in a space created by the university,” said Schweber. “It’s space open for a purpose — to allow employers to participate in a job fair. It’s perfectly okay for UW to exclude people who aren’t employers or who aren’t participating in a job fair who want to come there for some utterly unrelated reason, but it’s not okay for UW to exclude people based on their viewpoints.”

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Schweber said UW faced controversy in the past concerning the First Amendment. In 2000, the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth case made its way to the United States Supreme Court. The court decided students are required to pay segregated fees even if portions of those fees fund political or ideological activities students disagree with.

The inclusion of an anti-trans organization in a recruiting event remains disturbing to a wide array of students on campus, however. QLaw and six other student groups asked “allies” not to interview with WoLF.

“The question about what students — and I would add, staff and faculty and administrators — can do to reduce the harm done by WoLF’s presence is a very important one,” Enke said. “My personal belief is that the single most effective thing to do is to simply not give them any attention whatsoever. Beyond that, keep educating about the realities of trans and nonbinary lives so that there is less ignorance and less support for transphobia and transmisogyny.”